Detroit police board defends use of consent decrees

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners is urging U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to keep the use of consent decrees and other means of federal oversight in place for police departments, saying they protect civil rights.

In a resolution passed Thursday, the board credits federal oversight, which ended in 2016, with helping the Detroit Police Department provide better service to the community.

The board is asking Sessions to “heed the evidence of systemic law enforcement abuses and discrimination in many U.S. cities and towns” and maintain the use of consent decrees and other federal oversight tools “for the essential protection of citizens and their civil rights.”

In a March memo, Sessions ordered a review of all Justice Department initiated police reform agreements and investigations as part of an effort to cut back on oversight of nonfederal law enforcement agencies.

Detroit’s police board, in its resolution, contends Sessions erroneously believes federal oversight is unwarranted and stems from the “misdeeds of individual bad actors.”

“Sessions ignores facts and evidence that consent decrees do not target a few ‘bad actors,’ but rather departments with systemic and often long patterns of civil rights and other constitutional abuses or ingrained problems that undermine the effectiveness of law enforcement, the strength of police confidence and community relations, and the achievement of justice,” the resolution stated.

In 2003, the city of Detroit and its police department entered into two consent decrees with the U.S. Justice Department.

The first dealt with use of force, arrest and witness detention. The second decree was tied to conditions of the department’s holding facilities. By early 2016, the department was free of federal oversight.

The Justice Department’s evaluation, along with court oversight, “provided valuable feedback and technical assistance to ensure that DPD’s reform efforts were embedded and sustained for the future,” the board wrote in the resolution.

Commission Chairman Willie Bell says the consent decrees had a positive impact on the department.

“We are not under that type of scrutiny anymore,” Bell said. “We went through years (of federal oversight) to make us a better department. (Detroit Police Chief James) Craig inherited the issues we have resolved. We want to continue on the path of providing quality policing.”

Commissioner Willie Burton gave Craig credit for his leadership in leading the department out of the consent decree.

“Thirteen years of the consent decree was ended because the right police chief was hired and held accountable for doing his job,” he said.

(313) 222-2311